Your antiquated lurid, vaguely baseball-related scandal of the day

No man was better known among the lovers of base ball than Joe Sprague, in the palmy days of the old Atlantic Club. His fame as a pitcher was great, and he was left out of few of the famous matches, at a time when the game was played for glory, and not for stamps. Mr. Sprague is now over forty, and inclined to corpulancy. His love for vigorous exercise has not, however, left him, and he is no almost as famous as a bowler in the St. George’s Cricket club as he was formerly renowned as a pitcher in the old Atlantic. At present he has a little game of law on his hands, very much to his disgust. A lady, calling herself Phoebe R. Sprague comes into court, and asks for a decree of divorce absolute and forever severing the conjugal relations between her and Joseph, and permitting him to know the felicities of the marital position nevermore. The lady is a daughter of Mrs. Susan L. Ryerson, who resides at No. 385 Third street, South Brooklyn. She was originally married to Mr. Henry Hankay, of this city. He fell into consumption, and was recommended by his friends and physicians to go to Europe. He went, and died soon after landing, in 1868. His remains were embalmed and sent back to this country with the proper evidence of his demise, and interred in the Catholic cemetary at Rochester. Affidavits of these facts properly attested appear in the suit, and at one time there was an allegation that the plaintiff had a husband livingat the time of her alleged marriage to the defendant. This marriage contract is said to have been made in 1872, but it is not claimed that there was any formal ceremony. It is alleged, however, that witnesses were present when the defendant agreed to take the plaintiff for better or for wrose. Mrs. Sprague–givng her the title which she claims–says that after the marraige mr. Sprague supported her at the rate of three or four thousand dollars a year, and claimed that his income was many thousands more than he spent for domestic purposes. He himself lived extravagantly, she says, and was of a generous nature twoard his friends. {N.B.–Joe can get any number of persons to certify to the turth of this statement}. They lived together happily for some time, until plaintiff says she discovered that he was paying attentions as a single man to one Miss Laura Roselle, a young lady of great respectability. The plaintiff says that the defendant’s acquaintance with this girl turned out very unfortunately for her, and the girl admits in an affidavit that she sued him for damages for seduction. This matter was settled between the lawyers a year ago last Summer, but the plaitniff says sthat the girl did not benefit one cent by it and does not even know what the terms of the compromise were. Plaintiff alleges that Mr. Sprague is now residing with maude ramaden at No. 596 Warren street. On a motion for alimony and counsel fee, made by Mr. A. J. Spencer on behalf of the plaitniff, Mr. Justice Gilbert made an order on default granting her $20 a week alimony and $100 counsel fee. the defeault was opened, and Mr. James W. Ridgway, counsel for defendant, asked for time to put in affidavits. Two days were allowed. Very much to the learned gentleman’s surprise, Mr. Justice Gilbert made an order in which he went one better than in the former, for he allowed $20 a week alimony and $200 counsel fee. This stirred up Mr. Ridgway considerably, and he found, on inquiry, that his Honor had never seen the affidavits which he put in, but that they had disappeared mysteriously.

The matter again came up before Mr. Justice Gilbert, when Mr. Ridgway introduced affidavits, showing that he had put in affidavits in rebuttal, as allowed by the court, handing them to the clerk or an officer, for the purpose of having them delviered to Judge Gilbert. His Honor thereupon allowed the defendant to renew his affidavits, and they were submitted yesterday. In these affidavits the defendants tells his side of the story. On the motion the plaintiff put in affidavits to show that she was married to the defendant, and that she was intrdouced to his mother as his wife. She also showed that his mother was in the habit of sending her cakes and sweetmeats and addressing them to Mrs. Sprague or Mrs. J E. sprage. Mr. Hiram W. Botts, of New York, describes as a man of means and referred to by the learned counsel for the plaintiff as a Christian gentleman, deposed that defendant represented himself as a member of the firm of Lewis & Sprage, tea brokers, of Front street, New York. Mr. Botts says that, at the request of the attorney for Mrs. Sprague, he went to the place of business of Lewis & Sprague to serve an order in the suit, and that the appearance of the place indicated a considerable business. In the tea brokerage line, says Mr. botts, a large business may be done with a small capital. He was told that the firm of Lewis & Sprague was dissolved, but he observed that the names “Lewis & Sprague” were still over the door. Afterward Mr. Botts went to the dwelling of Maude Ramsden in Warren street, and was told by her and her brother that mr. Sprague had been occupying a room there for some time, but that he was away at Springfield, Mass. Mr. Botts made inquiries in the neighborhood, and was told that, to all appearances, Mr. Sprague had been living at Maude Ramsden’s for a long time. Miss Sarah Ryerson, sister of the plaintiff, deposes that Mr. Sprague always claimed to have a “considerable business,” representing his income at many thousands. Miss Ryerson repeats the statement about packages being addressed to the plaintiff as Mrs. J. E. Sprague by defendant’s mother. The plaintiff’s affidavits state that she is living with her mother and destitute, and that all the clothing which she now has, except what has been given to her, is what is left of the wardrobe furnished to her by the defendnat. She declares that she is the wife of Joseph E. Sprague, unless some offense of the defendant may have affected the legality of the relation, and of such she knows nothing. she says that the defendant always represented that he was doing a good business and had an income of many thousands, and that if his citrcumstances are not so good now as formerly it is because of his dissipation and immoral life. Plaintiff says that for more than a year defendant has been supporitng Maude Ramsden and her mother, and spending his means freely on amusements and social clubs. she says that she can prove that his means are largey by Luddington & co.l, note brokers of Pearl street, new York, and by others, if she only has the money to subpena [sic] witnesses. Sprague’s mother says the plaintiff resided for some time with her married daughter at Springfield, Mass., and is supported by her brother, John D. McKenzie, of Front street New York, who is wealthy.

Mr. Sprague denies that the plaintiff was ever married to him, and says that if she has represented herself as his wife it was without his authority. He says furthermore in his affidavit that five years ago she was arrested for obtaining goods under false pretenses by representing herself as his wifeand was be3fore Justice Walsh. Mr. Sprague deposes that on that occasion she give him a written papaer in which she stated that she was not his wife, but subsequently stole the paper from him. Mr. Sprague also deposes that he was married amny years ago to a Miss Clinton, who procured a decree of absolute divorce against him, and that the decree prohibted him from marrying while his former wife was alive. He swars that the fact has been known to the plaintiff all along. Mr. Sprague says that the plaintiff told him she was going to marry sone one next Fall. He admits that occasionally lived with the plaintiff, but denies that she ever passed as his wife. Wtih rgard to some statements in the papers, which need not be printed, he admits that he once wrote a letter in which he said he knew nothing wrong about the plaitniff’s family. He says that a younger sister of the plaintiff was engaged to be marrked and that the bridegroom expectand heard that he had said the family were bad. Thereupon the family asked him to write a letter, saying that he knew nothing bad of them in order that it might be shown. Mr. Sprague says he is without means, the partnership between Lewis and him having been dissolved. He syas that he can barely make enough to support himself and his aged mother who is dependent upon him. He swars that he is utterly unable to pay either the almony or the counsel fee. His mother deposes to the same facts, and says she never called the plaintiff Mrs. Sprague, but always Mrs. Hankey, and that she never represented herself to the deponent as the wife of her son. Mr. Lewis, the defendant’s former partner, deposes that the partnership terminated in January 1, 1882, and that Mr. Sprague has no means or property and gave a note in settlement of claims held by mr. Lewis. Several merchants depose that they know Mr. Sprague to be without means.

The other day Judge Gilbert offered to try the case yesterday and settle the question as to the means of the defendant and the merits of the case at once, but the plaintiff’s counsel said he was not able to go to trial until he got money to procure witnesses. The Judge Gilbert said he would decide the question of alimony and counsel fee on affidavits, and all the papers were submitted yesterday.
Source: Brooklyn Daily Eagle February 12, 1882

First things first.  It would be totally awesome if the judge’s given name really were “Justice.”  That would be right up there with Judge Learned Hand.  Sadly, however, this seems to have merely be a conventional way of referring to a judge.

Moving on, however despondently, Joe Sprague really was a great pitcher.  His era was that immediately following the death of Jim Creighton, in the early-to-mid 1860s.  He clearly was one of the top pitchers of the day.

Finally, how did the lawsuit turn out?  Heck if I know.  I can’t find any report.  Search in this period for the Sprague divorce and you will find ample coverage, but that is of the divorce of the fabulouslyly rich former governor of Rhode Island who foolishly married a much younger woman.  It is an old and sad story.  Even that we don’t get all the good stuff.  They settled out of court and, alas, out of the newspapers.  In the meantime, the Joe Sprague divorce was small potatoes, only of local interest and barely that.

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2 thoughts on “Your antiquated lurid, vaguely baseball-related scandal of the day

  1. By “former governor of Rhode Island” do you mean William Sprague? He was married to Kate Chase (Salmon P’s daughter), a famous beauty of Washington society but also a very intelligent and capable woman. (She was instrumental in her father’s two presidential campaigns.) When they divorced in1882, Sprague was no longer fabulously wealthy, as drink, bad investments, and the Panic of 1873 had taken their toll. Also, Kate was only ten years younger than Sprague, not at all unusual at the time; when they divorced, she was 42 and he 52.

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    • True confession: I am not in fact conversant with the details of the William Sprague scandal. I read a few of the contemporary newspaper items, and made the rookie mistake of taking them at face value. My bad.

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